Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chicago Marathon


Sorry everyone, no pictures this time. For those who can't wait to get to the bottom of the page to hear how it went...it was a bust. My first real "bust" out of 19 marathons, so I think I was long over-due.

Chi-town…This is it, the pinnacle of my marathon “career”. I was determined to break the elusive 3:10 barrier in the great Windy City. It took quite a few runners to convince me to run Chicago because I absolutely despise large, crowded races. Next to NYC ING, I assumed Chicago would be the 2nd worst race in America. But boy was I wrong…in fact, had the weather cooperated I’m convinced it would’ve been the best race I’d ever run. While the crowd was large, the organization of the race was immaculate. I stayed at the Chicago Hilton (race HQ) which was steps from the start/finish area. They had a shuttle right outside of the hotel to take runners to/from the expo. Restaurants galore were all within walking distance. The city was clean and didn’t reek with the normal big-city stench that I so despise. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly, all I had to do was run the darn thing. There was a small concern of the temperatures being a little too high for a fast marathon, but I tried not to think about it. I decided that I was as prepared as I could be, and I would give it my best shot.

As most of you know by now, I’ve been somewhat of a running fool the past 10 months. I’ve run back-to-back marathons, marathons in the mountains, a 50k in the heat, and even a last minute marathon. This would be my 9th marathon of the year, and it was definitely the most important. I easily held back on my other races, they were really just an excuse to travel and run in new environments. I hit the mileage hard in August/September (peaking at 90mpw) and I lavishly enjoyed my taper, sleeping in and spending more time running with my sweet puppies (ponies?).

As I picked up my packet on Saturday, I literally had no idea what I was capable of, but I knew that 3:10 couldn’t be much of a stretch (especially given my 3:12 in Boston).

Race morning: My runner roomie (Matthew) woke me up plenty early, and for the first time in many marathons I wasn’t frantically throwing things around the room trying to find my sunglasses or watch, looking for that last safety pin, or praying that I would have time to hit the bathroom before the gun went off. As I made my way down the elevator I had that race-morning anticipation, eager to get going. There were at least 100 people in the lobby of the hotel waiting to head to the start line, and at least 100 more spectators eager to get back to bed.

I dropped my bag off at the gear check and headed to the seeded corral. I was very worried that because of the size of the race, the start area would be a giant cluster f*@# and it would take forever to make it though, but I was early enough to breeze right on to where I needed to be. I sat in the grass and watched people head in to the corrals, and saw a few familiar faces. Eventually I made my way to a pre-designated spot in Corral B where I was planning on meeting a few other runners. Sure enough, Ron, Matthew, Miles, and Nancy were all easy to find. Ron, Matthew and I look particularly dashing in our matching Endurasoak singlets.

I turned my watch on and waited for it to sync---wait a second---try it again…turn my watch on and…AH!!! It’s completely DEAD. I looked dejectedly at my watch and thought “how the heck am I going to do this?”. Unlike most well-prepared runners, I haven’t run any marathon pace miles all training cycle. Heck, I haven’t run any MP miles since BOSTON. My legs have no flipping clue what a 7:14 pace feels like, and I have no way of tracking my mile splits. I probably would’ve panicked had I been alone, but with my friends shooting for a 3:10 I knew I would just have to stick with them for as long as I felt comfortable.

The gun went off, and our little pack of 4 had no problems sticking together. I was amazed at how un-crowded it was. I hardly had to maneuver around anyone, and there was very little weaving and dodging. I did feel my heel get clipped once, but thankfully it wasn’t enough to take me down. The groups’ watches weren’t holding a signal, since we were in between many high buildings. Ron led us through the first 2 or so miles right on target. I was slightly concerned when I started sweating at mile 2, as that is way too early in the race to be perspiring. Nancy took off on her own and looked like she was feeling very comfortable for a 3:10. Ron was smart and realized it was too hot to push it, so he dropped back to run a controlled race. Matthew, Miles and I plugged away diligently on track for our goal. We chatted, voiced our concerns about the heat, and stayed very focused on the course at hand. I had been running with a plastic water bottle because I’ve become accustomed to carrying water on my training runs, and I didn’t want to fight the crowds at the water stops. After mile 3 or 4 I realized the water stops weren’t at all crowded, and the volunteers were a sea of hydrating efficiency. I tossed the bottle and hit every water stop from then on out. I remembered to take a gel around mile 6, though I was starting to feel warm and the Gu wasn’t very appetizing.

Mile 8 cracked me up when we came through Boy’s Town. I don’t remember much about the course, but it’s hard to miss the guys in drag on stage singing “Grease Lightning” and the Pride Drill Team spinning their rifles. Everyone was partying in Boy’s Town, that’s for sure. I was still feeling ok at this point, not great, but not horrible. I felt like I would at least be able to hold the pace for 18 miles, and hopefully claw my way to the 3:10. Something happened around 10 though, and I started feeling less than stellar. I was getting light headed on and off, and the effort became substantial. I took another Gu hoping that would help, but I still felt pretty rough. I stuck with Matthew and Miles until 12.5 or so, and still made it through the halfway point right at 1:35. I knew deep down that my body could not do what I was asking of it. I held on as long as I could, but by 15 I was cooked. I started getting light-headed again, and I felt goose bumps on my arms (which is NOT normal if it’s over 70 degrees out). One second I was on track for a 3:10, and the next I was dialing back my pace as much as possible.

I was pretty upset that I had failed at my race (even though it was long from over). I started thinking that everyone was right, I ruined my training by running too long and too slow, and running too many races. I was sad to realize that I won’t be able to run races frequently and I can’t get any faster if I’m trying to train for something like a 50 miler. I gave myself a few minutes to mope, and then I immediately started scheming. I knew there was a 50k in Ohio in 2 weeks, so if I REALLY slowed down my legs should be ok for another race. If I can’t run a 3:10, there is absolutely no reason to kill myself finishing as fast as possible. I realize this sounds like I was giving up, but if I can’t set a PR there’s no reason to be racing. Period. I wanted to have a quick recovery, and to do this I would need to cause minimal damage during the last 9 miles of the race.

I let people pass me, and suddenly I realized I had been running in a pack of mostly all men. There weren’t any chicks around, anywhere. It felt good to think I was running in BQ land for the young guys. Anyways, with that now over I focused on slowing down, though again…no watch! I didn’t have any idea what pace I was running, but I wanted to make sure it was at least as slow as an 8:00/mile. Girls started passing me in torrents, and a little part of my ego died with each passing pigtail and skirt. At one point a girl with shorts so short that her butt cheeks were hanging WAY out tried to pass me, but after a look at her thong-shorts I couldn’t stand to run behind her. I passed her and never saw her butt again (literally).

The miles ticked by and I don’t remember much. I know that I was only annoyed by the screaming crowd a few times, mostly when I started to get dizzy and the shrill screams and cow bells further compounded my headache. The water stops broke out some hoses once the sun really started beating down, and I enjoyed running through the spray every mile or so. They also had kiddie pools filled with soaking sponges, and passed them out to runners. It was obvious that the fiasco in 2008 when they ran out of water and had to cancel the race would not happen again.

Miles 20-26 are a complete blur. My legs felt fine at the easy pace, and I was breathing easily through my nose. I still got dizzy on occasion, and did start to feel tired. I was so ready to be done with the race. I was ecstatic to finally see the finish line and face the thousands of fans screaming on the side of the road. I realized if I ran straight down the middle I wouldn’t hear any of the stupid “You’re almost there! Sprint it in!” comments that marathoners so LOATHE to hear. I crossed the finish line and quickly made my way through the chute, collecting my medal and a barrage of food items. Only once I sat down on the grass by the bag check, did I realize I had no idea what my finish time was. I calculated it must’ve been a 3:26, though later someone checked the results for me and pointed out it was a 3:24 something. I’m surprised I ran even that “fast”, because it felt like I was running 9:00 miles at the end.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the day was sitting at the finish area with Chris and Matt, waiting for Stevi to finish her first marathon. The race conditions were elevated to a “red alert” status, which meant it was way too hot to be out on the course. Everyone finishing past the 4 hour mark walked through the finish area with a bag of ice on their head. The temps were in the mid 80s, yet another bad year at the Chicago marathon. We also discovered that perhaps due to the insane amount of people at the finish line trying to use phones, none of us could use our cell phones. This was a disaster after the race for runners trying to locate their families. It was so frustrating having a full signal, yet unable to place any calls.

Anyways, Chicago was a bust…but the year isn’t over yet!! At the airport while standing in line to go through security, I registered for the Stone Steps 50k on Oct. 24th in Cincinnati. I very much look forward to a silly adventure with Chris and Matt, who also had a crappy day in Chi-town (sorry boys). I am perfectly fine with what happened, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little disappointed.

Only 38 days until the JFK 50 Miler, so there’s no time to waste.


  1. Damn, Amy, your only mistake in Chicago was finally acting like an actual human being for once. You're an amazing running machine, which simply needs to be properly programmed for that 7:14 marathon pace. If you train for it, you'll get it. Oh, and a cool day wouldn't hurt either.

    Always a pleasure to dine and run with you.

  2. The only bad thing that I read is how your not recognizing how good you really did. Running in heat really sucks and you adjusted splendidly. 3:24 is nothing to be ashamed of especially with the conditions. Good job!

  3. It's always hard to PR on a hot day. A very impressive result none the less. Congratulations.

  4. Dude! That whole part about it sounding like you were giving up? I read it the exact opposite way... Scheming for a 50k before the race is even finished it balls out hardcore! Plus you still kicked my only marathon time ass by far and I'm one of those young guys who'll be gunnin' for that 3:10 the next time I decide to hit the pavement for a marathon.

    Great job despite the tough conditions (I know your pain after that damn NF 50k whooped my butt) and best of luck in Cincy!

  5. Ah, Amy-- I know exactly how you feel and I have totally been there! It just sucks when your body won't do what you think it should be able to based on all past training and races. And of course, when the weather isn't in your favor. But you still ran an amazingly fast time (with all the speedy guys). It's good to see you having so much fun with all these races.

  6. Okay, lady. First off, that's not a bust. You know how I feel about you going all in for 26.2 training and how I think you'll fare.

    Really it was a tough day to try to pull off what you were trying to do - PR with non-specific marathon training on a hot day. Sounds pretty crazy when you look at it like that. Even crazier is that I thought you would pull it off.

    I am so glad we briefly met up again. I am so happy that the city treated you so kindly. It is a great place and with the exception of the weather, a great race.

    I'm proud of your efforts out there. It's not a bust. A bust would be a DNF, 4:00+ for you, or something else. You did pretty damn good in terms of what your training consisted of on a less than ideal day.

    Great job, kid.

  7. +1 to Zab's second paragraph. Great race Amy, and still another great RR.

  8. Amy, I think this was a pretty amazing performance, given the conditions. I dropped my goal from 3:40 to 3:55 BEFORE the race started, and still only got to 4:02. It was BRUTAL out there, and I can hardly get my head around you running a 3:24. Amazing, congratulations

  9. Nothing wrong with that race. It got hot and once you were not going to PR you saved it for another day. Great time for most people. i am sure once you train for a marathon and get a cool race you will have no trouble with 3;10 or even faster.

  10. I think this might have been a blessing in disguise. Would you rather PR in Chicago, or have an amazing race at JFK50? I think you're gonna rock the course at JFK. I'll be looking forward to your race report! JFK50 is definitely a race I want to do one of these days. And congrats on the nice race at Chi-town! 3:24 is nothing to be ashamed of in that heat.